To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain forever a child. For what is the worth of a human life unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?
These words, by Cicero, remind us to reflect on our history, to cleave to its lessons and to let it shape us today.
War, its catalysts and its consequences, cannot be forgotten.
We must weave the lessons of war into our history; gather together its broken threads; create a tapestry which tells the story of why it began; how it unfolded; who went, who came back, and what they learnt.
A century ago, 1916, marks one of the bloodiest and most needless chapters of Australia’s war history.
Commonwealth forces were involved in the Battle of the Somme, where we lost 420,000 lives. France lost 200,000. With German losses added, the figure jumps to more than one million.
In July 1916, Australian forces saw action at the Battle of Fromelles. Here 5,500 Australians were killed or injured in just 24 hours.
More than one million.
So easy to roll off the tongue.
But those numbers were people; not invincible movie stars; not fictional heroes.
They were tradies, farmers, footy players, scholars, and surf lifesavers. They were sons, grandsons, husbands, fathers, brothers, nephews, mates.
And they were young. More than half of those enlisting were under 25.
There was no glamour in mud-filled trenches; little glory in supposed victory; just pain and brokenness.
This morning is a time to remember, and also a time to be real about what we’re commemorating: death, tragedy, failures in leadership, evil motives.
Granted, the story of war is embroidered with countless tales of heroism, of leadership, and of miracles of survival.
But war itself is a disaster wrought by human hands; triggered and controlled by the decisions of men and women.
This is a time to remember our heroes and to commemorate their sacrifice, but also to reflect on how wars begin and the havoc they wreak.
For what we remember says a lot about a culture, but perhaps what we forget says even more.
And so we gather to remember,
To bow our head,
Not wave flags.
And we will weave what we learn from them, into our future.